Biergarten Haus: The good and the bad
Biergarten Haus finally made its D.C. debut Friday, with a crowd waiting outside at 9 a.m. for the opening game of the World Cup. Judging by the number of questions we've received in recent weeks, this is one of the most anticipated bar openings in recent memory. I made it out to Biergarten Haus twice opening weekend, once for drinks on Friday night and again to watch Germany vs. Australia on Sunday afternoon. It's way too early to give a full report on the place, as will become clear in a minute, but here are some initial impressions.
The good: Everything we wrote about in previews about the beer garden is as good as hoped. The outdoor area, which has room for at least 300 people, is tremendous, full of long wooden benches and tables. Servers come through often (though not always frequently enough) to see if anyone needs a drink. Shade comes from trees planted in the middle of the flagstone patio, or from tents erected over tables near the outdoor bar. In one corner, an accordion-and-guitar duo played drinking songs. German flags fluttered overhead. Said more than one friend I ran into: "I feel like I could be in Munich."
The bad: Biergarten Haus has an impressive list of a dozen drafts, curated by Bill Catron, formerly of Brasserie Beck, but it didn't live up to its potential on opening weekend. The summer heat meant the draft coolers -- located outside in a converted carriage house -- couldn't get as cold as they needed to. As a result, the beer was pouring with way too much froth, and the bartenders took extra long to make sure they were delivering a liter of liquid instead of a mug that was 75 percent foam. This was an issue on Friday night, so on Saturday and Sunday, the bar stocked up on canned and bottled German beers and was advising customers to avoid the drafts for prompt service. (The owners say this should be fixed this week when they install a powerful new air conditioning unit.)
This is not to say the beer list is lacking -- I'm happy drinking Henninger lager, Tucher hefeweizen and Reissdorf Kolsch on the patio. But until the draft system is working, it won't be the full beer garden experience. Prices ranged from $6-$7 for a half-liter bottle to $10-$12 for full draft liters served in extra-large mass glasses.
The good: The food is excellent. Start with laugenprezel -- a combination of a dinner roll and pretzel that's more of a laugenbrotchen -- that should be ripped apart and dipped into mustard. (They are baked for Biergarten Haus by Arlington's Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe.) No beer garden would be complete without sausages, and these don't disappoint: The weisswurst tastes of fresh herbs; the darker bauernwurst has a rich and smoky flavor. For $13, you get two sides with the wurst; go for tangy rotkohl, or red cabbage, and the warm potato salad, streaked with bacon, which a friend swears "tastes just like" her grandfather's version.
The bad: Men who went to use the bathroom were directed to a trio of portable toilets in the alley behind the beer garden. The men's rooms are under construction -- they'll be located in the carriage house building in the courtyard -- and should be done this week.
The good: If it rains, the inside is a much better bet, and not only because the draft lines are better behaved. From the mounted heads on the paneled walls -- a red deer stag, bighorn sheep and elk -- to the shelves stuffed with vintage beer mugs, it's as on-song as the outdoor area. And during soccer games, it's even less crowded, as everyone wants to be outside. (The first floor doesn't have any TVs anyway.)
The bad: If you're going to watch the World Cup -- and Biergarten Haus will be open for every game -- you might really want to show up early. On the other hand, it might not matter. Many people showed up to watch the U.S. or Germany to find that every table outside was reserved. Biergarten Haus started taking reservations for big events -- including World Cup games starring the U.S. and Germany -- before they opened their doors for the first time. Because there was some crowd grumbling about reservations, the policy may change in the near future, so call before heading out if there's a game you absolutely want to see.
-- Fritz Hahn
| June 14, 2010; 4:34 PM ET
Categories: Bars and Clubs
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